Bunhill: Time to stand still and think of England
Sunday 30 March 1997
Under a plan recently outlined by the Department of National Heritage, Britain's wealth creators will one day be cast as heroes in a specially constructed "Avenue of Statues" in London. The aim, says the department, is to give proper recognition to our scientific and industrial heritage.
Not before time, some will say, but it won't be not before time for some time yet. So far, the Government has simply invited the director of the Science Museum to chair a committee on how the project might be funded, where it could go and who might be featured. And if ever there was a quintessentially British invention, it's the committee.
However, the inevitable hiatus means there is plenty of time for the rest of us to stake our claim to immortality. I suggest that those who invent and engineer the following life-changing devices would be fit to stand motionless for eternity alongside the likes of Isambard Brunel.
The self-cutting lawn and the self-washing car. These would certainly save time, although the malevolent forces that might fill the vacuum on Sunday mornings in suburbia are too terrible to contemplate.
The express checkout alarm. Anyone with more than eight items in their shopping basket would automatically activate a high-pitched recording of people muttering in the queue behind them. They would then be chained in leg-irons and pressed into service on a slave ship.
The virtual reality car mechanic. The most important invention, its purpose would be to interpret those garage-land streams of consciousness that routinely leave us humiliated and hard-up. To illustrate:
Car mechanic: "Your diagonal cross-beam's punctured the diaphragm and there's froth in the sprocket valve. D'you want us to sort it now?"
Virtual reality program: "Your steering might go in 20 years' time. It'll cost you a monkey."
CM: "There's a vertebra loose in the rack and pinion, and a brace of pheasants in the zip and oracle."
VRP: "Doesn't compute."
CM: "Your boomerang shaft's displaced the menotronic turbine in the outer astral tube. D'you want to leave it for the MOT?"
VRP: "Ignore him; you haven't got a car."
Ancient Chinese proverb say those who walk home in the rain get wetter than those who run.
A classic Oriental statement of the bleeding obvious? Not at all, for this is just what two US meteorologists set out to prove recently. According to the latest issue of New Scientist, Thomas Peterson and Trevor Wallis from the National Climatic Data Center in North Carolina waited for a wet day and then went out into the field (well, the street, actually) wearing identical clothing. One ran 100 metres, the other walked, and the runner's clothing was shown to have absorbed 40 per cent less water.
There was a point to the test: researchers at the University of Reading had calculated two years ago that however fast you moved, you still got just as soaked. I now look forward to showing these researchers that if they go out in a rainstorm and I stay indoors then one of us won't get wet at all.
None of this is to suggest that science is alone in testing the boundaries of balderdash. For instance, the Economic & Social Research Council has just sent us a briefing pack which admits that "not for nothing is economics known as the 'dismal science' ". It goes on to prove the point by announcing that "housing transactions are characterised by chains", and that "the chances of selling a house depend largely on the right person being available to buy it".
As the singer Ian Dury once observed: "It takes a lot longer to get up North ... the slow way."
As you might recall from these pages last week, Tesco has unleashed a range of cheese sandwiches to gauge our political and culinary affiliations. We have Blue Stilton for the Tories; Red Leicester, Labour; Double Gloucester, Liberal; Sage Derby, Green Party; and Cheddar with Fruit Cake, Monster Raving Loony Party. The initiative began in mid-March and the first wrapping papers have now been counted in some London stores.
These show, surprisingly, that Red Leicester is being edged out by the fruit cake alliance in the sun-dried socialist borough of Islington, but that it is beating Blue Stilton in the Conservative enclaves of Tesco's City store in Cheapside.
It is hard to say what effect the latest sex and sleaze allegations are having on Tory cheese fortunes but - and call me a crusty old piece of Camembert, if you must - I think you'd have to be monster raving barking to eat a Blue Stilton sandwich.
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